Tag Archives: Holiday

Slice of Home

Last weekend I had the pleasure of reuniting with old friends and introducing a German to the culinary joys of a typical American Thanksgiving. The top hits were, predictably, pecan pie, pumpkin pie, turkey with cranberries, and stuffing. Green beans, mashed potatoes, sweet potato pie, and bread rolls filled the rest of the table and I heard about more desserts than I was able to glimpse before they were gone. Wine, beer, and Glühwein flowed (we are in Germany, after all), and discussion of the World Cup replaced that of Bowl games. This was a context that just made sense to me and I belonged right there.

The atmosphere was warm, relaxed, and utterly welcoming, bringing the Yiddish word heimish to mind. This word comes from heim or home, and is used to describe the familiar or homey feeling of a place. Heim is also a German word and making this connection reminded me of the Dutch word gezellig, used to describe everything cozy from a physical environment to the feeling of an evening with friends or seeing each other again after a long absence. Gezellig is one of those “untranslatable” words into English and, as I understand it, has a far deeper meaning than its German cousin, gesellig, which refers to the sociability of individuals.

What I enjoyed about the evening was not only watching the reaction to the first tastes of the aforementioned traditional dishes, but also soaking in the atmosphere in which about thirty people, only some of whom knew each other, made themselves at home in a home set up exactly for that. When too many of us were crowded into the kitchen (which is not large enough to accommodate a table and chairs), people moved first to the dining room where they stood or settled into chairs pushed back against the walls, and then to the long picnic tables on the enclosed porch. Acting on a need for a drinks table, more space for desserts, or a different location for the plates required a request for help from the closest person and then the space was modified. Heimish indeed.

I spent the vast majority of my time in the kitchen, my preferred place to be in large gatherings, chatting to whomever came in to drop off an empty plate, fill a glass with Glühwein, ask for another spoon, or check the progress of the stuffed, and unhurried, turkey. The guests came from all over the world and had lived all over the world, and we cheerfully exchanged backgrounds over the common ground question: What is your connections to the hosts? I saw some people for the first time when they were gathering their coats to leave and some names stuck as quickly as others disappeared from my working memory. I didn’t always realize whose partner was whose and found myself in multiple conversations about food in Singapore.

Something that I really like about Thanksgiving is that people are always so appreciative of having somewhere to go and people to celebrate with. For those who grew up with a big American Thanksgiving, introduced to my family during our first year living in the States, this is the time of year when being together is critical. It is a holiday centred on food and harvest, a holiday where we gather to enjoy one another’s company as the days get shorter, darker, colder. Thanksgiving is a time to come together and to remember that communing around food is something that all humans have in common, that harvest and the seasons are a product of the turning of the Earth. I have found that a Thanksgiving amongst strangers does not stay one among strangers for long, and that everyone is there for the same reason: We are all just humans looking to eat, drink, and gather.

I am thankful for being part of the day and I am thankful, especially, for the lovely people who were in the kitchen with me.

Weimar, Germany – November 2022

Building Peace: A Time for Giving

I live in a country obsessed with stuff. We have a lot of malls and shopping centers, a lot of sales, many opportunities to spend money. There’s a lot of getting new things, getting rid of old things, and keeping up with trends. I work with very privileged teenagers and for many of them, getting each new iPhone is the norm.

The focus on materialism has struck me sharply this week based on what I’ve seen and heard around school and I started to wonder: Why isn’t this a time for giving?

After talking with an administrator, I was asked to write a few lines for the parent newsletter and submitted the following:

With the prevalence of advertisements and sparkling lights it can be difficult for young people to remember that this time of year is a time for giving. We are lucky to live in Singapore where there are ample opportunities to give back to the community, volunteer time, and donate money to local causes. In Advisory, students are bringing in food donations for Food from the Heart, a resource bank for a variety of non-perishable items. Please consider emphasizing the importance of giving as you talk with your children around this time of year. There is much that clamors for our attention, but giving lies at the heart of what makes us human. As the IB mission states, we aim to develop “caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world”. Thank you for helping us raise these young people.

So for this post, let’s talk about giving.

‘Tis the Season

Many of us are attracted to shiny new things, as the advertising industry well knows. But once we’ve received the shiny new thing, does it make us as happy as we hoped that it would? Does it solve the problem we hoped it would solve? Sure, sometimes we love it and we’re glad to have it. But other times, we find ourselves using or missing the same comfortable old thing instead. Advertisers don’t talk about that part.

This is the time of year where we’re supposed to want the new thing. We deserve it, we’re told. We’ve worked hard. We can treat ourselves. 

And we have worked hard and we can treat ourselves. Sure.

But we can also give.

Giving is a verb. It is an action. It is something you do with purpose in whatever way you’d like. Giving means doing for another without expecting a response. It means thinking about someone else and removing yourself from the equation. Give because you want to and then step aside.

Giving doesn’t actually have a season, but this opportunity is as good as any. We can decide that this is a season of giving and we can promote giving as a peaceful act.

How to Give

Giving is easy because you can give anything.

We can give small moments to people in our lives just to see them smile when they realize we’ve thought of them. We can send a few “thank you” emails. We can offer a compliment about a new shirt or tie. We can smile a bit more, laugh a bit more, appreciate each other just a little bit more. We can ask after one another and listen, really listen, to what people say.

Giving, after all, is a verb.

And if we have it, we can give time. We can set aside our phones and other distractions and give people quality conversation, a friendly phone call. We can volunteer almost anywhere. For those of you in Singapore, we have ample opportunities to do just about anything.

If we’re lucky enough, we can give money. There is no shortage of good causes (and advertisements for causes that might not be so good). I know that this can be overwhelming, so if you’re looking to make the greatest possible impact, here is my favorite place to start.

A Peaceful Act

I haven’t written much about peace and peacebuilding since I published my book back in June, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot. I’ve been trying to live it with my students in our discussions about prosocial behavior in psychology class. I’ve been talking with friends from outside work to gain new and different perspectives. I’ve been meditating daily to grow in my ability to be open to sensations, experiences, and people.

So this is my request for a peaceful act: Please, amidst the holiday parties and glittery ads, think about giving. 

As I’ve written before, I see peace as the keystone in the arch of what comprises a better world. Giving, in any way you choose, will help make that world a reality.

Life in Color

Wednesday is Deepavali (also spelled Diwali), so Singapore is decorated, lit up, and celebrating. A friend and I ventured to Little India last Friday night for absolutely delicious banana leaf rice  and masala dosa (also spelled thosai). We looked around at everything for sale at the Deepavali market, did a little shopping, and walked away with flowered henna on our hands.

We’re celebrating in school tomorrow and it will be fun to see everyone in traditional Indian dress. Very comfortable, too!

I haven’t been taking a lot of pictures lately but do want to share some of what I have seen and snapped. Singapore now has a neat bike sharing program, which has added to the already robust (but still dangerous) bicycling culture here. Technically it’s illegal to ride on the sidewalk but everyone rides on the sidewalk because it’s safer than riding in the road. I normally don’t mind but sometimes I walk faster than the people on bikes. And sometimes they don’t react when I’m running and the only place for me to go is in the road.

I took this a few weeks ago at the hawker during a downpour. That temple was under construction when I was here two years ago, so it’s really cool to see it completed.

As good a parking spot as any and perhaps preferable for not being on the sidewalk.

In addition to enjoying the various cultures that exist in Singapore, I’ve also really loved living in a truly local part of the island that feels completely different from the work world where I spend most of my time.

The main road near my apartment that I cross to get to the MRT

And finally, since we’re talking about color, here’s a sunset walking home late from work one evening:


It’s a beautiful world out there. Take a look.